How to Find the Decision Maker Needle in the Big-Company Haystack

By Heather Baldwin

Finding the right decision maker in such massive corporations as GE or Chevron can be a lot like standing on the California coast and being told to swim to Guam. It’s a long way, it’s going to take a lot of work and while you know generally where you want to end up, you’re really not quite sure how to get there. Like the thought of that long-distance swim, the idea of penetrating a company where a single division might have 40,000 people spread all over the world can overwhelm even the most seasoned sales professional. So how can you help your reps find decision makers in large corporations? Jill Konrath, president of offers these recommendations.

1. Think like Nancy Drew. Your first step should be to get out of selling mode and into detective mode, says Konrath. It’s a tough shift for salespeople because many feel if they aren’t selling, they aren’t doing their jobs. You’ll get a lot further if you approach your search for the decision maker as an investigation rather than a sale.

2. Conduct research, research, research. Start with the company’s Website to learn about its different divisions. Targeting a specific division of a major corporation is more likely to yield results than going after the corporate headquarters, so figure out what divisions are in the company and which one would be the best fit for your product or service. A corporate Website almost always has the main contact information for that division, including the name of the person who heads it. Also look through the company’s annual report for names of executives in the division you are targeting. Be sure to visit your local library. Research librarians can access a lot of the online data that isn’t available to the public. They also have access to trade journals and other material that will help in your search and can provide important background to help you craft your pitch.

3. Pick up the phone. Even if you don’t have the decision-maker’s name after you’ve finished your initial research, pick up the phone to continue the investigation. Call the division head or the division’s main number and tell the person who answers what you’re looking for. Phrase the request in terms of the results you want to obtain, not a sale you want to make. For example, say: I’m looking for the person who’s responsible for reducing error rates in your production line. Avoid saying: I’m looking for the person who makes decisions about machinery for your production line. Remember, you’re still in investigative mode, says Konrath. You’re not selling; you’re researching. Also remember it likely will take multiple calls to find the decision maker. Someone may refer you to someone else who may refer you to someone else, but it’s important to follow the chain, says Konrath. “Most people quit too soon,” she says.

4. Quit networking. You read that right – stop going to chamber of commerce meetings and after-hours networking functions if your goal is to penetrate large companies. You won’t find their decision makers there. “Networking for big company decision makers means meeting with their counterparts in other divisions or attending industry-specific events such as trade shows,” says Konrath. In the rare instance where you do meet someone who knows someone who knows someone at the big company you’re targeting, Konrath says it’s unlikely that person will use up his or her relationship capital to get you in the door. So stop networking and start calling. “The fastest way to get into a big company,” says Konrath, “is to take control of your own destiny.”